Why the Boston Marathon is the Best in the World

It's almost impossible to qualify for and the hills are brutal, yet everyone wants to run Boston.

The start of the 1939 Boston Marathon. Photo via Boston Public Library/Flickr

The start of the 1939 Boston Marathon. Photo via Boston Public Library/Flickr

The Boston Marathon is a huge day for this city. Patriots’ Day seems like it’s Boston’s own national holiday, and the Marathon is the holiday’s parade. Plenty of other cities have marathons, so what makes the Boston Marathon so special?

For one thing, it’s old, and Boston loves history. Now in its 117th year, the Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon that is still in existence. Only 15 men braved the inaugural Boston Marathon in 1897. This year, 29,000 participants from 90 countries will toe the line in Hopkinton.

Among the historic highlights: The race was held in 1918 during World War I, but the format was temporarily replaced by a ten-man military relay race; Boston was also the first major marathon to sponsor a wheelchair division, beginning in 1975; and in 1996, for the centennial Boston Marathon run, the Boston Athletic Association captured a Guinness World Record for the then-largest marathon ever.

Another key part of the event’s appeal is just how difficult it is to earn a spot. Boston is a city known for selective schools and exclusive neighborhoods, so it’s no surprise we limit the entries to our marathon to include only the very best. The qualifying standards (known to many in the running community as “BQ’s”) were introduced in 1970, and are very fast compared to other marathons. Qualifying for Boston can be an athlete’s life goal, and the qualifiers are growing continuously faster over the years. Several Olympic champions from around the world have competed in the Boston Marathon over the years, though only one male and four female Olympic champions have successfully captured the elusive Boston title. So call us elitists.

Let’s not forget about the course, which is known for being brutal. The rolling hills are especially grueling, even for the most seasoned marathoner, concluding with the famously miserable “Heartbreak Hill.” Running the Boston Marathon forces athletes to be more tactical and strategic than on flatter marathon courses. As if running 26.2 miles wasn’t enough to feel the burn.

Another thrill of the Boston Marathon is the crowds. Police and officials along the route estimate that the Boston Marathon draws 500,000 spectators, making it New England’s most widely viewed sporting event. When it comes to on-site media coverage for a single-day sports event, only the Superbowl gets more attention. In other words, on Marathon Monday, all eyes are on Boston.

So, the Boston Marathon is extremely selective, agonizingly difficult, boasts a lot of history, and draws a huge crowd. This is Boston; what more would we ask for?